Optional Practical Training for F-1 Students

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is an extension of F-1 student status that allows you to work in the U.S. in order to gain practical experience in your major field of study. The job must be directly related to your field of study. You may use it during or after your studies in whatever portions you choose. You may work for any employer, anywhere in the United States. 

OPT Regulations:

In order to apply for OPT; students must have been in lawful, full-time student status for at least one full academic year. OPT can be done before completion of studies or after completion of studies. You are eligible for a total of 12 months of OPT for each degree level (BA,MA. PhD.), but this does not include two full periods of OPT for the B.A/M.A. program. Any OPT done before you complete your studies will subtract from the total 12 months of OPT available. 

Think of it as an OPT bank account! In that account is 12 months of full-time optional practical training. For example, if you would like to work full-time for three months one summer before you graduate, that is a three month withdrawal for full-time employment. You will be left with nine months to use after you have graduated from your specific degree program.

You may not use all of the 12 months of full-time Optional Practical Training before the end date of your I-20.

Timing Your Application and Work:
You may apply for OPT up to 90 days before completing your program but you must apply for OPT before you complete your program (before the end date of your I-20). United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will need to receive your application before your actual completion of studies. Post-completion OPT will always count as full-time. All post completion of OPT must be completed within 14 months of completing your Trinity program. To access a list of the required documents from OISS, please download this list: Checklist OPT.pdf. For the USCIS' regulations and forms, please go here.
 
Note of Caution: You may not begin working until you receive your Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card. Working without authorization is a serious violation of your status and may result in your loss of eligibility for benefits normally granted to F-1 students.
 
Responsibilities of F-1 Students on OPT:
  1. While on Post-Completion OPT, you are still considered an F-1 student visa holder and you are still a Trinity College student for visa purposes. This means that you are responsible for communicating the following information to Trinity while on your OPT time. 
  2. If you change your address while on OPT, you must update your address with the DSO at Trinity or with the USCIS. A change of address must be filed within 10 days of that change. You may email your Designated School Official (DSO) who will them update your SEVIS. If you do not inform your DSO then your must also file a change of address form with the USCIS. This form is available at the here. You can either fill it out online or mail it within then days of your address change to:
      1. U.S Department of Homeland Security
        Citizenship and Immigration Services
        Attn: Change of Address
        1344 Pleasants Drive
        Harrisonburg, VA 22801
  3. You must also report change of employer/s or unemployment to your DSO within ten days.

Travel While on OPT

While on OPT you will need a current signature on the back of your I-20 to travel and re-enter the U.S. The signature is valid for only 6 months while on post-completion OPT. Note: Your F-1 visa often expires while on OPT - if you travel outside the U.S., plan to have it renewed before you return.

To re-enter the U.S. you will need the following: 

  1. I-20 signed for travel
  2. Valid Entry Visa Stamp
  3. EAD Card
  4. Job offer or evidence of employment
  5. Verification that you have financial support while in the U.S. on OPT is recommended

Please be advised that the USCIS has been stricter about requesting proof of actual employment and/or evidence that you can return to the U.S. to resume employment. If you do not have evidence of a job offer prior to departure, there is no guarantee that the immigration officer at the Port-of-Entry will allow you to re-enter the U.S.

Extension of OPT
F-1 students who receive science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) degrees included on the STEM Designated Degree Program List, are employed by employers enrolled in E-Verify, and who have received an initial grant of post-completion OPT related to such a degree, may apply for a 17-month extension. Please contact the Office of International Students about the eligibility requirements and more information.

Immigration Status After OPT:

After the end date on your EAD card, you will have 60 days to do one of the following: depart the U.S., transfer to another school to begin an new program or begin a new program of study at Trinity College. 

Sometimes an employer is interested in extending your permission to work in the U.S. beyond the period of OPT. To do so usually requires a change of visa status to another non-immigrant visa status (for example, an H1-B visa) or an adjustment of status to permanent residence. If this is the situation, your employer will guide you through the process. It is important to keep all your I-20 forms. Your employer will need to include copies with your H1-B application or change to other visa status.